The endless search for SA: spiritual ideology in Hindustāni music

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O'Brien, Dara
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University College Cork
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This dissertation centres on philosophical attitudes presented by North Indian classical musicians in relation to the concept and experience of rāga improvisation. In Hindustāni music, there is a dynamic tension ideology and pragmatism, devotion and entertainment, fixity and improvisational freedom, and cognition and visceral experience. On one hand, rāga is an embodied methodological template for the creation of music. On the other hand, rāga improvisation is conceptualised as a path to metaphysical experience and as an evocation of an ineffable divine presence. A masterful rendition of rāga is both a re-enactment of a systematic prescribed formula and a spontaneous flow of consciousness. This study presents these apparent dichotomies to highlight ideological concerns, while simultaneously contextualising philosophical idealism in relation to pragmatic realities. A central paradigm is the manner in which pragmatic concerns are elevated in status and given spiritual significance. The dissertation begins with a view into historical and religious context. The discussion continues with a speculative investigation positing co-relations between Hindustāni music and central tenets of Indian philosophy, considering how rāga improvisation may manifest as a philosophy of sound. The study then explores the concept of rāga, a modal and conceptual construct that forms the heart of Indian classical music. The final three sections ground the subject of spiritual ideology within the life experience of Hindustāni musicians: ‘Transmission’ looks at the learning and enculturation process, which encapsulates values intrinsic to the ethos of Hindustāni music culture. ‘Practice’ explores the discipline, science and experience of musical practice, revealing core ideological concerns connecting spirituality to musical experience; and ‘Performance’ examines the live presentation of rāga improvisation, and the relationship between music as ‘entertainment’ and music as ‘devotion’. Both ethnographic and musicological, this research is the culmination of various fieldtrips to India, extensive interviews with Hindustāni musicians, fifteen year’s sitār training, and the study of relevant musicological and philosophical texts.
Spirituality , Religiosity , Sitar , Improvisation , Ethnomusicology , Musicology , Anthropology , Hindustāni music , Indian classical music , Indian philosophy
O'Brien, D. 2014. The endless search for SA: spiritual ideology in Hindustāni music. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.